'Rooted basil'

Usually I like to get to the weekly growers market early for the best selection, but a few weeks ago I didn't make it until nearly closing time.

Everyone was out of fresh-picked basil, which I needed to make pesto for that night's dinner. But then I noticed basil plants jutting out of a vase and a sign that read "Rooted Basil."

Curious, I examined the basil with the roots still attached. When I asked the woman at the stand whether the basil was for eating or planting, she responded that the best thing to do was to keep the basil in water and then just pluck off leaves as needed. She advised me to change its water daily.

I bought a bunch, filled up a glass vase at home and plunked in the basil.

That night, I blended some of the basil leaves with olive oil, garlic, salt, parmesan cheese and pine nuts in my food processor for homemade pesto.

A week later, the basil plant was still green, perky and happy enough to be putting out little white flowers and new roots. All it needed from me was a daily change of water.

Looking at it reminded me of a trip my husband and I took to San Francisco several years ago.

We went to an Italian restaurant, where the waiters were even more aggressive than the city's panhandlers. The waiters would grab people on the sidewalk by the arm and steer them into the restaurant, insisting, "You look so hungry! Come eat."

They shouted the same thing to people driving by in cars.

My husband and I allowed ourselves to be swept into the restaurant, where we were served a meal that included bruschetta — baked French bread topped with a tomato and basil mixture.

I decided to replicate the bruschetta at home using the rooted basil plant.

I sliced up a loaf of French bread while my daughter, age 5, mixed chopped garlic into butter and then spread it on the bread. I wrapped the loaf in aluminum foil and popped it into the oven. (Some people like to brush olive oil onto their bread when making bruschetta, instead of using butter.) I diced up four tomatoes, sprinkled them with salt and set them aside. My daughter enjoyed pressing our food processor's "on" button to blend together a small handful of washed and dried basil leaves and a garlic clove. Then we gently mixed the tomatoes and the basil with garlic in a bowl.

By then, the French bread was toasty, so we took it out of the oven and spooned the tomato mixture on top. The bruschetta made a great dinner along with grilled steak that had been marinated for several hours in plenty of soy sauce and a teaspoon each of cumin, red pepper, sugar, onion powder and garlic powder. (The marinade was easy enough for my 7-year-old son to make.) Thanks to the rooted basil plant, we had a meal with amazingly fresh-tasting bruschetta — and didn't even have to be kidnapped by waiters to get it.

Tidings staff writer Vickie Aldous and Tidings correspondent Angela Howe-Decker alternate as author of the weekly column Quills & Queues.

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